The telephone is ubiquitous. It seems nearly a basic right, to be able to make a call and communicate. Even more, the cost of this privilege is seemingly less and less. Voice over internet calling, more and more common, reduces the cost of long distance calls to pennies. Cell phones make a call part and parcel of any plan.
But these “right” are available if you are free. Once incarcerated, a phone call is subject to grossly inequitable fees. The reason for the fees is not clear, but in every state there is a middleman, a firm that controls most of not all phone calls from prison. The firm charges a fee for administering the phone systems, that fee is in turn charged to those making the call.
The purpose is supposedly to make prison calls secure and safe, though what this firm does to make all this true other than collect money is not certain.
It is very unfair. A man in prison who calls his wife, mother, child or friend has no money. If the family member or friend wants to maintain communication with the inmate, they must agree to what anyone would term outrageous fees. And, most often, these fees are to be paid in advance or with credit card.
What makes it unfair is the taking of money from those who can least afford it. It is easy to say there should be no sympathy for those who have committed a crime, but denial of communication hurts all, the criminal and his family. Should the young child whose dad has sold drugs and been involved in a fight, be denied communication with his father? And when the Dad is imprisoned, income for the family is less, making it a Sophie's Choice of sorts: food for the child or communication with his father.
Who are these firms? There have been plenty of articles on the subject: just do Google searches. In Massachusetts a prisoners’ right group began a petition or lawsuit recently. Their website states:
Petition Seeking Relief from Unjust and Unreasonable Cost of Collect Telephone Calls from Prisoners - This is a petition filed with Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable on behalf of prisoners, family members, lawyers, and others who seek relied from the excessive costs and poor quality of telephone calls from prisoners in state and county facilities.
However, any lawsuit against this illogical system has to be seen more an inquest: who and what is this all about. However it is an underground problem, one that does not effect anyone important, only the poor and prisoners. Someone is making money, that's for certain. Someday, perhaps, there will be an answer.